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Tilting at Windmills

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June 27, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

MONEY!....In the new issue of In These Times, Chris Hayes writes about fundraising for liberal causes:

In progressive circles, it seems the first rule of fundraising is: Dont talk about fundraising. Call up someone at a major foundation or a development director and their first response is to go off the record. Theres a deafening silence within the movement around the role of money in movement building, says Daniel Faber, who teaches sociology at Bostons Northeastern University.

More than a deafening silence, though, Chris writes that the biggest problem with liberal funding is that too much of it comes from foundations, which want to fund worthy programs, not political movements. I remember that Eric Alterman made the same point to me a few years ago when I interviewed him after the publication of What Liberal Media?:

You talked in the book about funding of think tanks and how important thats become for conservatives. Is there any hope at all for getting that on the liberal side? Why arent there any rich liberal cranks like Richard Mellon Scaife willing to fund liberal think tanks?

There are some good liberal funders, but its a very complicated question. The genius of what Scaife and Coors and those people did is, they just threw manure onto a field and decided to see what grew. What Scaife did is, he just gave everybody money, he said, fine, lets see what grows, whereas liberals are much more focused on programmatic money. They dont fund things that might turn into something useful that you cant predict.

You have to able to fund things where you cant predict how theyre going to work, and liberals dont do that. They want control, they want reports; they dont fund basic research, they dont fund operating expenses. All of the liberal organizations are always begging to keep going, they dont pay their people very well, and so theyre never going to let a thousand flowers bloom and see which of them is the prettiest.

The good news is that Chris reports that this problem is now widely recognized and liberal funders are starting to change their tunes. Here's hoping he's right.

Kevin Drum 12:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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What's more, why doesn't anyone consider Fundable (http://fundable.org) for political fundraising?

Posted by: Lyle K. on June 27, 2006 at 12:49 AM | PERMALINK

Why arent there any rich liberal cranks like Richard Mellon Scaife willing to fund liberal think tanks?

What about George Soros? Newsmax reports he funds quite a few shadowy leftist organizations.

Link

"The concentrated assault on House Majority Leader Tom DeLay by Democrats and their media allies hasn't just happened - it is largely the work of a shadowy group of liberal organizations, all backed by one man: George Soros."

"Billionaire George Soros has been working behind the scenes with liberal anti-Bush groups dominated by longtime Democrat activists."

""The research shows that members of these groups boards have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates and political organizations and several of their staff members have previously worked for Democrats," The Hill reported, adding that they "have also accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Open Society Institute, an organization founded by Soros, who spent millions trying to defeat President Bush in last years election.""

Posted by: Al on June 27, 2006 at 12:52 AM | PERMALINK

You pathetic liberal haters think that money is the root of all evil....and now you want to use it to solve society's problems! How droll of you, you imprisoned slaves.

And that George Soros....tell me, where are the billionaires on the Right? Nowhere! They're really all poor boys who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps. There are no hurdles in this Great Land, no sir.

And all you want are handouts. Look at all the great things happening in Iraq, you fools. Stop it with your science and your investigative journalism. Feel it, you haters. That's freedom. I'm free. You can't buy freedom. Someday you will breathe the air of truth, my softhearted silly children.

Posted by: Free Lover of Freedom and Free Liberty on June 27, 2006 at 1:14 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting. I am taking a class right now in Social Entrepreneurship, and one of the main take-aways of the class is that social ventures should have metrics, they should have measureable results, and they should eventually be self-sufficient.

One of the resons for this, our professor claims, is that the people who are funding social ventures tend to be self-made millionaires, frequently through entrepreneurship, and thus are more focused on a businesslike approach to philanthropy.

So when reading this, I wondered, does one's political POV have any bearing on the different philanthropic style? What about how one makes one's money? It might be worth looking at at bit more closely.

Posted by: fiat lux on June 27, 2006 at 1:14 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know why more super-wealthy liberals don't fund liberal think-tanks. It would make sense to spread a few million dollars around this way.

But I think I know why foundations don't fund political movements. They are worried about getting in trouble on the 501 (c) 3 front. It's easier to focus on seemingly less political programs.

Posted by: desmoinesdem on June 27, 2006 at 1:25 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know why more super-wealthy liberals don't fund liberal think-tanks. It would make sense to spread a few million dollars around this way.

Better yet, why don't we fund a high profile think tank for Al? It could be a kind of stealth weapon.

Posted by: snicker-snack on June 27, 2006 at 1:29 AM | PERMALINK

Another problem that "liberal" think tanks face, that doesn't trouble the right:

Liberal "think tanks" actually feel an obligation to produce actual studies, which tend to be expensive.

A lot of right-wing "think tanks" are just a private mail box somewhere, and a fax machine -- that's tre cheap. Even big names like Heritage are basically run as PR outfits, with a big budget for faxes, and not much serious policy analysis is going on. A lot of the smaller names confine themselves to supplying "quotes" to a journalism obsessed with maintaining a truthy balance.

I just finished reading an article on the new study, which found birth order a predictor of homosexuality in men. Right in the middle of the article, there were a couple of paragraphs from some right-wing group denying the whole thing. The right-wing group had no actual criticism, you understand, nor had they done any studies, but, hey, on matters of controversy, journalists want balance.

Liberals, who take policy and government seriously are going to have to spend an order of magnitude more money than the right-wing pukes, who just want to generate "quotes" and a propaganda blizzard of faxes and e-mails.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder on June 27, 2006 at 1:45 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin wrote "foundations ... want to fund worthy programs, not political movements."

Kevin! This is all laid out in George Lakoff's Moral Politics — including the moral framework of conservatives that emphasizes movement-building, and the moral framework of liberals that emphasizes protecting individuals and groups and the neglect of movement-building. Unfortunately, it's wired into the way liberals think, and we need to change it. It's all there. Read Moral Politics already!

Posted by: Joel Rubinstein on June 27, 2006 at 1:48 AM | PERMALINK

This observation does not necessarily apply directly to your subject here, but consider the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. These are liberals but their money goes into action instead of politics. I wonder if that is generally more true for liberals than conservatives. I expect both sectors have a genuine empathy for their fellow man, I just doubt that this empathy turns into public action very easily in the conservative mind.

Posted by: tb on June 27, 2006 at 2:01 AM | PERMALINK

Bruce Wilder wrote "Even big names like Heritage are basically run as PR outfits, with a big budget for faxes, and not much serious policy analysis is going on."

desmoinesdem wrote "foundations don't fund political movements [because t]hey are worried about getting in trouble on the 501 (c) 3 front."

Both wrong.

The Heritage Foundation and other conservative think tanks endow “scholars” and pay people to think about and write about what conservative morality means and why it is “right” for America and the world. Back in the 1960s, it was not so easy to be a conservative. To a much greater extent than today, liberals dominated public discourse.

In 1964, Barry Goldwater was trounced in a landslide. In 1980, Ronald Reagan won the presidency and proceeded to dismantle decades' worth of progressive programs. This didn't happen in a vacuum. It happened in large part because conservative think tanks had been investing in long-term strategic thinking instead of and endless series of urgent causes — building a movement. And they're still at it, while liberal foundations are funding . . . an endless series of urgent causes and not endowing scholars and building a movement. See: Moral Politics by George Lakoff.

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Posted by: visen on June 27, 2006 at 2:41 AM | PERMALINK

I think the truth of tb's comment is somewhat reflected in youth participation in politics. As a young person, I've noticed that young conservatives in politics vastly outnumber young liberals in politics, despite the conventional wisdom of ideological identification among youth. Passionate conservatives tend to participate in politics directly - College Republicans, political internships, Republican clubs, etc. Passionate liberals, on the other hand, tend to join NGOs, social justice groups, and other "action" oriented outfits. Politics is cynically viewed as "establishment" and hopelessly corrupt, thus NGOs are viewed as more directly effective. Judging from the tone and attitude of a lot of liberal youth, a Democratic politician isn't too far from "the Man." Not only does this deprive the progressive "movement" of valuable talent, but it also reinforces the tendency for liberals to specialize in or choose a "cause" (since NGOs are rarely generalist), furthering fragmentation.

Posted by: Ramey on June 27, 2006 at 3:17 AM | PERMALINK

What Scaife did is, he just gave everybody money, he said, fine, lets see what grows

Judging from the declining quality of trolls on this site, I suggest that the Scaife counter Blogging Project isn't getting its money's worth...

Posted by: Gregory on June 27, 2006 at 8:00 AM | PERMALINK

Liberals, who take policy and government seriously are going to have to spend an order of magnitude more money than the right-wing pukes, who just want to generate "quotes" and a propaganda blizzard of faxes and e-mails.

Spot on.

Posted by: Gregory on June 27, 2006 at 8:09 AM | PERMALINK

They don't pay well???? I dare you to print a list of salaries of the top 250 lib "not for profits" and I guarantee it would make Abramoff blush. The head of Minnesota's NPR affiliate makes over $500K, that's why they need so many pledge drives.

Posted by: minion of rove on June 27, 2006 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

They don't pay well?

Correct... to the point where I actively discourage my friends from going into the non-profit industry, not matter how much psychic values the jobs may provide-- the jobs are exploitative and low-paying for the amount of work and expertise required. On the other hand, working as a "fellow" for the heritage foundation or getting a summer internship at a right-wing "movement" group invariably provides for their employees quite well.

Now please be quiet instead of screaming about what you don't understand.

Posted by: Constantine on June 27, 2006 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

Not another Turdblossom Effect in political economics?

Posted by: jerry on June 27, 2006 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

I stand by my comments - print the salaries of Operation PUSH, the Ford Foundation, or NPR for a start and see where your tax dollars, or tax deductions, are going. If you don't think those are representative, look at some local under-the-radar group in your area. The amount of funds, and campaign contribution kickbacks, flowing through your local group to aid the mentally handicapped, for example, would astonish you.

Posted by: minion of rove on June 27, 2006 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

I stand by my comments

Of course you do...

This is another example of warped mindset that you and your fellow right-wingers have.

Kevin, I, and most other liberals are concerned about the situation of the average worker in a non-profit and the young person trying to get a summer internship. You focus obsessively on what you've been told is the situation of someone at the top, somewhere, in some non-profit you don't know much about. You're also conflating foundations with think tanks and activist non-profits, which are what we're interested in.

We're thinking of the practical effects of the overall picture, and you're flaming about things for the prupose of repeating talking points. So of course you'd stand by your statements. We wouldn't expect anything else. Now please be quiet and let the adults discuss real issues.

Posted by: Constantine on June 27, 2006 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

The genius of what Scaife and Coors and those people did is, they just threw manure onto a field and decided to see what grew.

I think it's more like they threw money at the cows and got a bunch of manure. They just sell the shit as though it were flowers.

Posted by: maurinsky on June 27, 2006 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

Good news to my friends on the left: Any contributions to Democrats can be written off your taxes as a 'total loss'.

Anyway, this is really a microsm of the flawed ideology of liberalism. Conservatives are willing to spend a bit of seed money and let the external world determine what works, then do that. Liberals demand top-down control, and lose because they try to control the world, and make reality match their ideology.

Posted by: American Hawk on June 27, 2006 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

Right, Kevin. You never heard of George Soros? You never heard of the Hollywood elites who give milions? You never heard of the unions?

Posted by: Hey Moe! Hey Larry! on June 27, 2006 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Man, right-wing trolls are one-note. George Soros is coming for your guns and your children, boys. Start building the fallout shelters!

Basically, the complaint I'm seeing is that liberals try to manage their political donations like they would an investment in a business, while conservatives are willing to sustain a more profligate burn-rate on the off chance that they might strike gold. Sounds exactly the same as their respective governing philosophies. Liberals try to apply money in a wise way that does the most good for the most people. Conservatives fund open-ended purposeless military engagements because the head of their personality cult says "Trust me".

Posted by: Singularity on June 27, 2006 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

These people have got to be kidding. The conservatives didn't just throw their money out there; they planted it only in places where it would produce conservative output.

The liberal problem is actually rather different: there is too much disagreement within the community that the right has so far successfully defined as "liberal," and therefore smelly, putrid or whatever other offensive adjective they can attach to it. As a result, defining a "liberal" approach is far more difficult than the droning clonism that the new Republicans have been able to enforce on their party.

Someone who is a "far left liberal" by these right-wing standards would likely be perceived as a moderate rightist in Europe, leaving America gravely out of step with the rest of the world.

The "liberal" problem is less a problem of think tanks, etc., than it is of poor, misleading or missing coverage in the traditional media, and it doesn't look like things are going to get any better for liberalism, unless more progressive points of view are rewarded at the ballot box (and the security of the ballot box is another hurdle).

Posted by: notjonathon on June 27, 2006 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

. Conservatives are willing to spend a bit of seed money and let the external world determine what works

is that why NRO, NY Post, Wash Times, etc. don't turn profits ?

Posted by: cleek on June 27, 2006 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

Newsmax reports

Never a good way to begin a convincing argument, Al.

Posted by: Brautigan on June 27, 2006 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

is that why NRO, NY Post, Wash Times, etc. don't turn profits ?

Hey, I see lots of advertising in the Washington Times....like this ad here....for the Washington Times.

oh, nevermind.

Posted by: Ringo on June 27, 2006 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

It's nice of everyone to play with the trolls, but you're really doing them no favors. Maybe, if everyone ignored them long enough, they might be tempted to get up from behind their computers, stand up, stretch, venture outside into the daylight, see other human beings, eventually talk to one of them and begin the long hard process of getting a life.

I'm willing to do my part by ignoring their mindless little rants.

Posted by: Greg VA on June 27, 2006 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

I think some of the Scaife-funded "research" went far beyond funding basic research, and was more like wallowing in and hurling handfuls of manure:

Some of the people that Scaife funded were simple, backwoods criminals from Arkansas like Parker Dozhier, David Hale, Cliff Nichols and the Arkansas State Troopers. These men would be out runnin' moonshine and shootin' coons, if they weren't makin' up wildass stories about the Clintons. Then there was the next higher rung on the evolutionary ladder, knuckledraggers like Floyd Brown and David Bossie, who might have a bad haircut and a degree from a bad university, but were still dumb as a stump and flogged the "Clintons killed Vince Foster" myth unmercifully.

Then, Scaife also had the creme de la creme of the pond scum set, like Ann Coulter (one of the "elves" who set up Clinton in the Lewinsky/Paula Jones perjury trap), Joseph Farah and David Brock (now repentant)- slick, well-educated professional liars who could con an Eskimo into buying a Frigidaire. Oh yes, Scaife's millions funded a lot of mischief against Bill and Hillary Clinton, but none of these criminals paid any price whatsoever for their treachery. How sad this ever happened in America...

Do I think the Dems should stoop this low? Yes, absolutely. When is the next National Enquirer story about Dubya fathering a black child due out???

Posted by: Stephen Kriz on June 27, 2006 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Ted Turner, Michael Isner, Ben and Jerry, Steve Jobs, Steven Spielburg, The Kennedy clan, Theresa Heintz Kerry, 90% of the screen actor's guild, numerous foreign investors - this is just a list which I had 5 minutes to think about.

The biggest problem is that the liberal groups operate on guilt rather than inspiration or the typical human desire for more.

Posted by: Orwell on June 27, 2006 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

My other meta-analysis would be that fewer progressives are eager to get into fundraising. Even on the campaign level, I see many people who sort of stumble in and out of that world. I believe that is less true of the GOP.

It should be noted that the Center for American Progress is incredibly flush with money from Soros and elsewhere and is doing some really snazzy stuff. Like everyone else, some parts of their fundraising is focused on individual programs, but they have a lot of cash to use at their discretion.

Finally, there's a good government (Goo-Goo) side to a lot of the liberal money that enters the system. Donors are interested in crap like "honesty" and "rigor" whereas Scaiff and Coors are interested in winning.

Posted by: Jeff on June 27, 2006 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

Another problem: we liberals are into purity. Many Democrats voted, back in 1992, to support what Bush is now calling his "War Resolution." Therefore, we will not support either the Democratic Party, or any of our Representatives and Senators who voted for it.

There's any number of skeletons that we bring out when the Democratic fundraiser calls. Most are years in the past, and as has been noted in Washington Monthly, no longer apply: Democrats are more united in their voting than even Republicans, and are no longer just rolling over for the Administration.

But we "will never support" so & so because of what they did "way back when." There must be consequences, there will be no amnesty, we will have accountability.

Jeeze, we sound like little Republicans...

Posted by: Zandru on June 27, 2006 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

This is a problem common throughout the nonprofit world, not just to political organizations.

"Foundations adopt causes; individuals adopt organizations" is an absolute fundaraising axiom. Wealthy individual donors develop relationships with the management and staff of the organizations they fund, and those relationships endure through the inevitable hard times when it looks as if progress (in whatever field the organization operates) is slow. Foundation staff builds relationships with the staff of groups they fund, but staff can always be overruled by their board or senior management, which may have its own views of the foundation's mission.

Posted by: Zathras on June 27, 2006 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

The biggest problem is that the liberal groups operate on guilt rather than inspiration or the typical human desire for more.

or homophobia and McCarthyism that inspires so many on the right.

Posted by: Ringo on June 27, 2006 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

or homophobia and McCarthyism that inspires so many on the right

or greed, or selfishness, or tribalism, or fear, or anger, or jingoism, or military fetishism, or simple authoritarianism...

Posted by: cleek on June 27, 2006 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

Threadjack:

Study says that homosexuality may be related to the number of older siblings your mother has birthed.

How about that for making conservatives' heads explode?

Have lots of kids; make God happy.
Have lots of kids; more likelyhood of gays.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on June 27, 2006 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

It happened in large part because conservative think tanks had been investing in long-term strategic thinking instead of and endless series of urgent causes building a movement. And they're still at it, while liberal foundations are funding . . . an endless series of urgent causes and not endowing scholars and building a movement. See: Moral Politics by George Lakoff.

This is true. I think a lot of the problem with funding a liberal movement is that, unlike conservatives, liberals don't have a personal vested interest in contributing to a liberal movement.

With conservatives, the vested interest is in the protection of their wealth. Cutting income tax rates, and eliminating estate and capital gains taxes are the prime motivators for guys like Richard Melon-Scaife, all of the other stuff is ancillary to creating enough critical mass to make it a viable movement (I'm referring to conservative pet causes like abortion, gay marriage, etc. My guess is the Melon-Scaife doesn't give a crap about any of those issues. Just cut his taxes).

On the other hand, what is the vested interest for a wealthy liberal in establishing a liberal movement? While he may likely support such an idea, he gets no direct benefit out of creating think tanks to study universal health care, the effect of abortion on family planning, balancing tax rates with the needs of society, etc.

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on June 27, 2006 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

No one mentioned Buffet or Peter Lewis. I'm a little surprised. Both give heavily to liberal causes. Of course, like Soros, they are about 30 years behind, so we as liberals have a lot of on the ground grass roots building to do with this new money and that takes time.

Posted by: DC1974 on June 27, 2006 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Someone who is a "far left liberal" by these right-wing standards would likely be perceived as a moderate rightist in Europe, leaving America gravely out of step with the rest of the world.

Posted by: notjonathon on June 27, 2006 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Given that the rest of the world is a piece of shit when compared to America, perhaps it is they who are "gravely out of step" with us. lol

Posted by: Chicounsel on June 27, 2006 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

I sure hope Rush Limbaugh gets a stiff sentence for this.

Posted by: Fred Flintrock on June 27, 2006 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

On the other hand, what is the vested interest for a wealthy liberal in establishing a liberal movement?

I would guess most wealthy liberals have more interest in cultural than economic issues, if only because the latter might more adversely affect the wealthy crowd they hang with. So their "liberal" movement would probably be more of a safe, cultural-based liberalism (abortion, gun control, gay marriage, etc.) instead of an economic-based liberalism that would benefit more citizens but also cause more unrest in the status quo.

Posted by: Vincent on June 27, 2006 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

This is interesting because it is yet another data point that flies in the face of the conservative smear of liberals, saying we throw money at any problem without "accountability". As we have seen in the last 6 years, it is just the opposite. We should use this as another argument for taking back congress. They are treating Iraq like a Scaife enterprise.

Posted by: Dawn on June 27, 2006 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

Republican benefactors wish to preserve the class structure and increase their wealth. They consider influencing politicians and the public through Think Tanks as an investment to lower taxes and reduced regulation on their ownership of the means of production. A lot of "middle class" voters lean toward the Republicans in spite of the loss of income to the upper class, because of "social issues" designed by well-funded Conservative Think Tanks.

Liberals, on the other hand, are not so fixated on improving the lot of the top 1% at the expense of everyone else.

Posted by: deejaays on June 27, 2006 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

The funding of these events will always be a controvertial topic. After all the things that worry me in the very least is just how much bang does one get for their buck these days...?

Is full disclosure likely to be every achievable?

George

Posted by: Darksky Alaskan Malamutes on June 28, 2006 at 3:29 AM | PERMALINK

This post describes the irony of the term "liberal" very well.

"Liberals" can't get political movements going because they are too focused on control.

Posted by: aaron on June 28, 2006 at 7:28 AM | PERMALINK

Are you starting to see the fundemental flaw?

Might not be long before Kevin finally abandons his audience.

Posted by: aaron on June 28, 2006 at 7:31 AM | PERMALINK

I hate to feed trolls, too, but the rest of the world is not a piece of shit compared to America--such fantasies should have died long ago. America's streets are filled with the homeless, many of whom are in desperate need of psychiatric care; more Americans are murdered than in any other advanced nation; Americans, even wealthy Americans, are in poorer health than their European and Asian counterparts; America's vaunted infrastructure is crumbling (New Orleans is only the tip of the iceberg); American police strut down the streets like smug gangsters with a don't f**k with me attitude; buses and trains are barely ridable; more Americans are in jail than in any other advanced nation; the American legal system executes people at rates comparable to North Korea, Iran and China . . .

Anyway, America is not the shining hope of the world; in fact, non-Americans see the United States as the single greatest threat to world peace. And all because of Ronald Reagan and the two George B's.

Posted by: notjonathon on June 28, 2006 at 7:35 AM | PERMALINK

aaron--

The control freaks are all in the White House.

Posted by: notjonathon on June 28, 2006 at 7:38 AM | PERMALINK

Bumper sticker idea:

REPUBICANS do it for the money. DEMOCRATS do it for THE POWER.

Posted by: aaron on June 28, 2006 at 7:48 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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